Image: Lucio Fontana


Kenneth Branagh Film Commentary

Kenneth Branagh was determined to make a film about Belfast, set in Belfast and even named Belfast because the city had such an impact on his life and career.

When the troubles started in Belfast in August 1969, Kenneth Branagh was eight years old. According to him, to this day he remembers hiding under a table with his mother and older brother, while paving stones were torn from the street and hurled through the windows of his Catholic neighbors. Fortunately, however, the problems were not the only arguments in the plot of the Irishman's most personal film.

Describing him as "autofictional" rather than "autobiographical", the greatest working Shakespearean actor, scripted and directed the film that follows him as a boy and his parents' struggles trying to decide whether they should leave Northern Ireland for a new life. , escaping the troubles of the local civil war – Branagh was from a Protestant and working-class background.

In this perspective, the Branagh family emigrates to the English city of Reading. If you look closely, Belfast is dedicated to those left, those left and all those lost in the chaos of war.


belated bewilderment

In this sense, as the philosopher and theologian reminds us Mario Sergio Cortella “time is not just passing, it is also exhaustion, leaving for many only a few horizons of late perplexity”. This belated perplexity is very present in Branagh's narrative. Such perplexity is also contained in the cinematography of Haris Zambarloukos.

To that end, the film was shot largely in very clean black and white to underline Branagh's artistic ambitions, demonstrating Branagh's deep investment in the material, but also his struggle to downsize from a larger cinematic canvas to a scale. more intimate and visceral. The composition of Zambarloukos' ideas is great, with blocks, framing and angles proposed for a visually interesting and nostalgic film.


feeling of separation

The director started working in Belfast in March 2020. In this, he always knew that the separation from Ireland, deep down was the separation of an established feeling of knowing who he was, anyone who watches in depth will realize that the feature was the most sensitive and touching cinematic act of his career, Belfast exudes Branagh sublimely and densely.

In the work, philosophically, the feeling that this story is about separation is remarkable, so much so that the characters instigate reconnection with something that is permanent in us. What would this reconnection be? This reconnection is within our hearts: it is nostalgia, nostalgia for our home, our country, our parents, our lives and, above all, nostalgia for ourselves.

He manages to be punctual by depositing this sensitivity in the puerile look of a child. However, this philosophical exercise never achieves much more than a basic goal, resulting in a sure-fire audience delight, which fails to convey the impact these experiences must have had on Branagh himself.

The plot development, the setting, the characters, everything is brilliant and impeccable in this film. But Buddy shines brighter than all the other characters. He remains steadfast in his goal of helping parents and grandparents, and when he finally seems to lose hope, life shows that there is always a way out, even if it isn't exactly what we expect.

The film deals beautifully and extremely delicately, not with a war, but with the relationship of a family and the immense love that this boy feels for his parents. Which means you'll be watching a light-hearted chronicle of the life of a dreamy 1960s kid, not a second In the name of the Father (1993)


Buddy's Look

In view of this, Branagh's goal of sticking only to the boy's perspective is commendable, so much so that it is clear that the feature did not want to paint a political picture of the civil war – and it did not need to. The film is about what the boy Buddy lived in his innocence.

To that end, what he saw was small-scale intimidation, the beginnings of a kind of gangsterism, and at that stage he was in no position to see higher political causes. So, inevitably, he has a narrowness of perspective.

Thus, in his argument, the purpose of the story is to translate individual experiences into universal experiences, so much so that his thoughts and feelings are used to engage the audience. Personal dramas become the focus, not the war. Unlike films that focus on detailing the civil conflict, Branagh's film shows in more detail the side of the families that were left behind. Talking about war is a heavy subject, but the whole atmosphere is softened by the figure of the boy Buddy.

The camera closely follows the character, who brings great lightness to the story. We can't forget that this is a light work and that it needs to be attractive to families, so Buddy is the perfect character to make that happen. The young Irishman is a boy who sees himself alone in the world and has a very childish view of things, sometimes even inconsequential.


character building

Let's be honest, Branagh always gets the character building right, each of the characters is well written and represent something that moves and marks the boy, which is very interesting to analyze. Each one reacts in a different way to the war and it is interesting to observe what these figures represent in this situation.

Buddy charmed me with his naive sincerity and vigor. At the age of nine, he no longer leads the comfortable life he used to have and his greatest desire is for things to be the way they were. He had to mature quickly, as his life was directly impacted by social, political, religious, cultural and family pressure. In this, the heaviest story is due to the secondary characters (mainly his father and his beloved grandfather), who show the boy, little by little, how the war influenced each of them.

There is a passage, for example, where his father is pressured to fight on the side of the protesters, in another he is threatened by moneylenders, these are just a few of the many subjects that are serious, but treated with the necessary lightness, due to the preferential audience. of the long.


The War and the Future

One does not have to believe that it is right and proper to try to explain everything that happened in this period of Irish history. Just try to enjoy the experience of being a child again, a child who loves his parents, his neighbors, his grandparents, his friends and his siblings. And, above all, believe in the future.

So much so that the film's message is summed up by Buddy's father, after the boy solemnly asks if there might be a future for him and his fellow Catholic. “Pa says, 'She could be a vegetarian antichrist, for all I care. But if you respect each other and are kind, they are welcome to our home any day of the week.”

So really, at heart the film is a plea for what the future holds. What does that future hold? – open communication, understanding, respect, tolerance – all the things that are easy to say and hard to do.

Yes, I know, it takes a while to understand all this, in fact, as the Brazilian doctor, diplomat, poet and novelist said Guimaraes Rosa, “it is not convenient to make a scandal at first, only gradually does the darkness become clear…”. But, the prize at the end of this is peace and prosperity. I think this gem is worth watching.

*Vanderlei Tenorio is a journalist and is studying geography at the Federal University of Alagoas (UFAL).



England, 2021, 98 minutes
Direction and screenplay: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds.


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